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October 2016
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My early days as an Arsenal first team player. By John Radford

Following on from our publication of “Arsenal: The Long Sleep” for which Bob Wilson wrote the introduction, we are genuinely honoured today to have an article today from John Radford on Untold Arsenal. 

John joined Arsenal in 1962 and over the next 14 years made 475 starts for Arsenal, scored 149 goals, and won the Fairs Cup, the Football League, and the FA Cup.

May I take this opportunity to thank John not only for providing a really interesting and fun article for Untold Arsenal, which I am sure you will enjoy, but also for all the pleasure his performances in an Arsenal shirt across the years gave me personally, as a supporter of the club.

Thank you John.  I always have the fondest memories.          Tony Attwood


My early days as an Arsenal first team player


By John Radford

I well remember the day before my debut in Arsenal’s senior side. It was Friday 20th March 1964, just a month after my 17th birthday. In those days we youngsters had to do all sorts of menial tasks around the place and one of them that day was to clean the baths at Highbury stadium. I was scrubbing away when the next thing I knew, our manager Billy Wright was standing watching me.

“John, you’ll need to rest up a bit when you’ve finished doing that.” he said looking serious.

“Why’s that?” I replied a bit puzzled.

“Because you’re playing at West Ham tomorrow.” he said and walked away leaving me stunned as you can well imagine.

I was in only because Joe Baker, our top scorer had been suspended for fighting with Liverpool centre half Ron Yeats in an FA Cup tie at Highbury the previous month – it took much longer then for punishments to be effected.

The next day we took the team coach from Highbury to West Ham. Near their ground we went over a hump backed bridge near Upton Park tube station. Well, as we arrived over that bridge all I could see was thousands of fans of both clubs milling around shouting and waving. I can tell you I went cold! I must admit the game itself seems to have passed me by a bit but I do just about remember Alan Skirton scoring to earn us a draw.

I didn’t play again until the following November when I came in for a couple of games after Jon Sammels was injured and the boss thought I deserved another chance – I’d been scoring quite well in the Football Combination.

Funny enough it was West Ham again but we lost 3-0 to them at home and could only draw 0-0 with West Brom at the Hawthorns so I was out again for the next match. That was Manchester United at Highbury and Billy Wright put Frank McLintock at inside right in my place. Frank was a great player but even he would admit that he wasn’t cut out for that role!

Just two days into 1965 I was recalled to face Wolves, who were bottom of the league at that time, at Highbury. By half time we were 3-1 up and I’d scored my first senior goal – two of them in fact and Joe had got the other. In the second half Alan Skirton crossed a beauty and I managed to turn it past MacLaren their goalie. I can still remember my team mates mobbing me. A hat trick and I became one of the youngest players ever to achieve that feat in the top division.

Another one I remember well was against Bolton in a FA Cup replay a couple of years later. We’d been held to a draw at Burnden Park the previous Saturday and the replay was back at Highbury under lights the following Wednesday.

I reckon Bolton came to get another draw and a further replay on a neutral ground for it was still 0-0 at half time. That all changed after about 20 minutes in when I went clean through their defence and scored from about 15 yards out. Two minutes later Hopkinson their ‘keeper miskicked straight to Geordie (Armstrong) who fed me immediately for my second. Just a minute later Peter Simpson crossed and I headed home from about 8 yards out. Three in four minutes – is that the quickest in the FA Cup? I don’t know but it must surely be one of them.

What you may not know about me was my ability in those days as a shot stopper in goal, which I proved in a FA Cup semi-final against Stoke in 1972. Bob Wilson was injured late in the second half and I took over for the last 15 minutes.

They couldn’t get one past me that day and I loved every minute of it. After training, we used to have this little flutter amongst the lads. I would go in goal and they would each take three penalties. I had to save one of them to take the kitty. So it was 50p for the first shot. If it went in, it was double or quits for £1; and if that went in it doubled up again to £2. And do you know what? I earned more in that way than I did in wages.

Happy Days!


There’s a new detailed review of The Long Sleep now on the Arsenal History Society Site, and the book itself is available in a printed edition and on Kindle from Amazon – just click on the links below.

You might also enjoy The date no Arsenal fan will ever forget by Bob Wilson.

24 comments to My early days as an Arsenal first team player. By John Radford

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    Brilliant John! Please write again its so fascinating and leaves you wanting more…Thanks for everything you’ve done for AFC–you are not forgotten and still much loved.

  • colario

    Back then John was one of those players, who when you saw him play, you thought may be, just may be.

    May be, the times were a changing and our hopes and dreams would once again be fulfilled.

  • Al

    Very interesting read, thanks John. The last paragraph cracked me up 🙂 Also what a feat that was, to fill the great Bob Wilson’s shoes…

    And thanks UA for these articles from Arsenal greats, thoroughly enjoying them.

  • thierryhenry22

    Fascinating. Thank you John and thanks for being one of those who contributed to what this amazing club is today!

  • Ando

    What a pleasure to hear from “Big Raddy”.
    I remember the goal-keeping v Stoke; what a cheer went up from the crowd as he pulled on the green jersey and took up his position. Everyone was a bit nervous, as I recall but after a few minutes it was obvious that he knew what he was doing and the tension in the crowd evaporated.
    And never to be forgotten is the TV interview from the Wembley dressing room after the Double in ’71.
    ” George Armstrong must be fittest player in t’league – nay, in t’country!”, all delivered in broad Yorkshire accent.

    Thanks for some great memories, John

  • Rantetta

    This is brilliant.

    I remember John Radford, but not the games. (I’ve seen some of your goals in the years since).

    My only complaint – the article isn’t long enough. (Not a real complaint, I just want more.

    Thanks John.

  • Matt Clarke

    Thank you, John, for that interesting and amusing read.
    It is a thrill to hear from you and I hope for more.
    I think that I saw you play just once (towards the end of your AFC career) and that was a thrill too as you were (to me) so famous.

    Thanks too Untold!

  • proudkev

    Great stuff.

    The days of muddy pitches, heavy balls and players wearing the number representing their position on the pitch. Good old, honest football. John Radford is a perfect example of those days, a great Centre Forward.

    How many goals did John score from crosses from little Geordie Armstrong? The number 7 was my favorite player growing up.

    Here is some John Radford on Youtube:

  • John L.

    I well remember seeing John play and I recall some of the goals I saw him score.

    A great player, a great servant to the club and never heard to criticise anything to do with Arsenal (unlike some). I was sorry when he left as he still had much to offer.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Great read.

  • Goonermikey

    Fantastic John. You were my first real footballing hero and brought me a great deal of pleasure over the years. I always remember ‘being you’ in the school playground (which had it’s challenges when my non-footballing parents moved and I ended up going to school in Tottenham!) Thanks

  • proudkev


    I too went to school in Tottenham, moved from Islington when I was 9 not long after the Double win!

  • Andy Mack

    John, should I thank you or hate you for being one of the team that ‘hooked’ me as a 7 year old at Highbury…. Many ups and downs since then but I guess it’s a big ‘THANKS!’.

    I really don’t think many modern fans grasp the major step up is was back then from ‘youth’ to ‘Seniors’, and it’s an even bigger step now at the Wenger Stadium with the cameras and 60k ‘fans’.

  • Gooner S

    Excellent read. As a youngster I can recall my Tottenham supporting Father telling me that he rated you very highly and believe me praising Arsenal players wasn’t something that he would do too often and still doesn’t!

  • Another Old Geezer

    John Radford (Raddy), a truly great player, a cult hero to us Arsenal fans in the late 60s/early 70s standing on the North bank. Fully deserving the honour as being included as one of the Arsenal greats whose names are displayed wrapped around the frontage of the Emirates stadium.

  • omsin_the_legend

    Always great to hear from the old boys. Excellent read, enjoyed every bit of it. Thanks and more please.

  • Nigel

    John Radford.

    What another great scoop for Untold Arsenal. Thank you John for taking the trouble to write for us and hopefully you will continue with the rest of your fantastic career. Very much appreciated and you were always a popular player who gave 100% and scored some great goals, and made many more.

    On a personal note a few years ago after a match at the Emirates my wife and I were strolling towards Highbury when we met you walking the opposite way. We spoke and we were both thrilled when your friend took a couple of photos of us with you. You were so gracious and friendly and it is so nice that when you meet one of your heroes that they do not disappoint. Of that double team you was the third I have met, the others Bob Wilson and Charlie George, and all of you so approachable. Thank you and keep well.

  • Menace

    Thanks John. I’ll always remember Armstrong Radford goal or Armstrong Radford Kennedy goal.

    What a fantastic simplicity that gave us the double. Happy days indeed.

  • Jim Carroll

    Thanks John.I was at the Bolton cup replay, fantastic hatrick from a true Arsenal legend.PS I thought you were man of the match in the 71 cup final.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Being among the key players in that Arsenal squad of 1971-72 , when I started to follow the club , John , you were among my early heroes , although Charlie George was my one and only favourite player .

    I got to see you play live only once and that too here in Malaysia on the 11th. May 1975 in Kuala Lumpur . Arsenal lost 2-0 that night, but for most of us fans just being in the same stadium as the Arsenal team was joy enough .

    My endearing memory of you in that match was the demonstration of your genuine appreciation and true sportsmanship towards an opposition player. Am not sure if you would remember it ( or if at all you’ll be reading this !) , but as the ball was swung in from a corner , your bullet like header was destined for the top corner of the net , but suddenly the then Malaysian goalkeeper ( the late ‘Spider ‘ Arumugam ) threw himself across and flipped it over the bar .

    I remembered seeing the stunned look of disbelief on your face from my seat behind that goal. It was fleeting moment though , as you then stepped up and gave your hand to him and helped him up to his feet . If I recall correctly , both of you were give a warm and long applause in appreciation by the crowd .

    The then Malaysian team was third placed in the Teheran Olympics of 1974 behind Iran and Isreal and was a quite formidable team and way ahead of Saudi Arabia , Kuwait , Japan and S.Korea at that time , so Arsenal losing was not really a downer.

    I shall ever remember this incident as well as the many memories of you in long and loyal service of this club. Thanks , John.
    Do hope that you keep on contributing on this site .
    Cheers !

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    Great post Bricks! What about a write up on that game?

  • Ken George

    Brilliant John . All it needs is a full length book . Still remember your equaliser that took us to Wembley at White Hart Lane on4 Dec 1968 .
    Indeed many happy memories .

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ Kenneth Widmerpool – February 19, 2016 at 8:09 am – Thanks . A write up ?
    My memory was not what it was , and it was more than 40 years ago ! So much so that that I erred in writing Olympics , when it was the Teheran Asian Games in 1974 !
    Maybe when things are quiet around here .